Sunday, December 05, 2010

Embroiderd Digital Commons: Quotidian

The term 'Quotidian' is being stitched by Glittrgirl and Skumkitten is coordinated and documented on the blog.

They have ambitiously embarked on a strict plan to stitch and blog everyday until the text is complete:

"Quotidian: Common but not commonplace. The memorable nature of the everyday. Memory walking down a street and turning a corner. Memory buzzing in a hard disk. Ubiquitous, the dirt in a site, the fog in a liminal zone, that which is thickened through repetition.

Milk, computers, onions, computers, pyjamas, computers, carpal tunnel syndrome, computers, accidents, computers, sex, computers, bread, computers, night, computers, class, computers, skin, computers, love, computers, money, computers, headaches, computers, police, computers, buses, computers, bicycle, computers, radio, computers, horoscopes, computers, matrimonials, computers, funerals, computers, biscuits, computers, conversations, computers, silences, computers.

The quotidian is that which makes a journal turn, over time, into a history, because it induces the search for patterns and meanings in an otherwise tangled mass of time, in memes iterated beyond reasonable limits. Routine, yet random, the quotidian nature of anything demands fleeting moments of lucid engagement with the real world, which now includes within it the world that is forged every time any fingers do a qwerty dance on a keyboard. The quotidian is a measure of all things, rare and commonplace."

I first met Glittrgirl at a stitch 'n' bitch knitting group in Newcastle upon Tyne. I was amazed at how net savvy all the knitters were, and the group opened my eyes to the close relationship between open methodologies, textiles and technology. Suzanne is a prolific knitter and all round creative person who's daily work involves issues such as the creative commons, and creative consent licensing, as well as open education. So the Embroidered Digital Commons is a perfect project to work through the relationship between making and thinking both digitally, textually and materially.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Embroidered Digital Commons: Kernal

The term 'Kernal' will be stitched at Access Space in Sheffield, UK on Thursday afternoons.See the poster below for details.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Embroidered Code at Bletchley Park

I am really thrilled that The National Museum of Computing is hosting a series of 'Embroidered Code' workshops as part of the Embroidered Digital Commons. The museum is situated at Bletchley Park, the top secret code breaking center in the Second World War. There are two interlinked meanings of code at Bletchley: firstly encrypted information is literally encoded; secondly computer code is used to programme the machines used to break the encryption.

The Embroidered Code workshops will stitch the following text:

"Code: That which carries embedded within it a sign. A code is always a way of saying something to mean something other than that which is merely said. A code can be 'opened', in the sense that it can be accessed and entered, as opposed to 'broken'. An open-access culture of communication 'reveals the source' of its codes. A closed culture of communication blocks access to its codes. "Free code" is code which welcomes entry, and is open to change. "Free Code" needs to be shared for it to grow. Code connotes community, a community of "encoders, decoders and code sharers". Like eggs, code is sometimes best had scrambled." (Raqs Media Collective, 2003)

The workshops will take place between 1-4pm on:
Saturday 13th November, 2010
Saturday 26th February, 2011
Saturday April 9th, 2011
Thursday March 24th (Ada Lovelace Day), 2011
Saturday March 26th, 2011

The HTML Patchwork will also be on display at the Museum until the end of December 2010. The patchwork, is a beautiful rainbow coloured quilt of 216 hexagons, each embroidered with their websafe colour code.

For further information see:

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Embroidered Digital Commons: Access

As part of the Embroidered Digital Commons project, the term 'Access' is being stitched at Access Space in Sheffield, UK. You can see the first embroidery of the title word 'Access' here. Open sessions will be held on Thursday lunchtimes 12.30-2pm on 30th Sept, 7th October and 14th October. Abi Nielsen is co-ordinating the stitching, and has posted info on the pickymiss blog.
Don't worry if you can't make these dates - both Abi and Access Space are keen to co-ordinate the stitching of another term - so get in touch with Access Space directly if you're keen.

Access Space has been instrumental in the development of the Open Source Embroidery project. In 2007 they supported the development of the Html Patchwork, which involved embroidering 216 hexagonal patches with their websafe colourcode, and took over 2 years to complete. As an open-access open-source media lab Access Space is major contributor to the concept of the digital commons. They support people to learn and use open source software to develop their own creative projects, as well as recycling and reusing computers.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Activist Tendencies in Craft

My 'rant' about knitted cake on Axis is raising some interesting questions on gender, pleasure, class, sugar, and different kinds of making. The rant is based on a longer article in the Arnolfini's Journal: Concept Store 3, Art, Activism and Recuperation. The book is distributed by Cornerhouse in Manchester UK - and you can buy it directly from their website.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Öppen Syjunta, Embroidered Digital Commons: Gift

The stitching of the term ‘Gift’ at HV Galeri in Stockholm provided an opportunity to reflect on the text by the Raqs Media Collective, and the contemporary experiences of the embroiderers. As everyone stitched I tried to describe the process of the event by considering the language and concepts of the term in the lexicon. It still needs polishing - but here's the first draft:

“Gift: Something freely given, and taken, as in free code. Gift givers and gift takers are bound in networks of random or pre-meditated acts of symbolic exchange. The code begets the gift as the form of its own survival over time. In this way a gift is a quiet meme. Reciprocity begets reciprocity. The principle of the gift demands that the things being given be price-less, in other words so valuable as to be impossible to quantify in terms of the possibilities of abstract generalised exchange. The gift must at the same time, be easy to bear and keep, easy to use and there must be no guilt involved in its destruction or dispersal when its use value either changes or demands re-distribution in order to be effective. Gifts open doors to our own possibilities of generosity. In this way they facilitate access to the things we did not even know we had. And, there is such a thing as a free lunch, although it requires the pursuit of a special recipe.” (Raqs Media Collective, 2003)

The Oppen Syjunta workshop was a space in which people came and went, freely coming and going, sometimes sewing, and sometimes not. The networks of embroiderers, artists and crafters came from the Points of Departure Exhibition, HV Skola, Mobile Life, Konstvack, and the HKD School in Goteborg. 

The handmade or handcrafted is strongly associated with gift culture. People carefully craft beautiful textiles or carvings for their children or godchildren to be handed down through the generations of their family. These objects are commonly described as an expression of love and care. Whilst these objects can be open-ended gifts, they can also be evaluated in terms of their gift-exchange value. Asking what is expected in return? In many ways the pleasure of making the gift is seen as its reward, but it also has embedded social values and expectations. 

The text was divided into sequences of between 3 and 7 words, each sequence to be embroidered by a different person. Most people chose to embroider words that had a synergy with their own ideas. Their acts of creativity were both random in their expression, but pre-meditated in their selection. The participation of over 1,000 people in the EDC is creating a quiet meme of the digital commons over several countries over time. The stitching of embroidery for a collective project encourages others to give in the same way. And for people to value the journey of the stitches in a global project. But of course the value of the experience is different for everyone. Margareta talks about anthropological research into the nature of the gift -  that you should return a gift with another, but there is a certain amount of time that has to pass before the gift is reciprocated…. but it must not be too long, because the exchange wont balance if the original gift is forgotten.

In EDC the stitcher gives their time and skills, and instantly receives fika, friendship and good conversation. But further reciprocity lies in the second wave of the gift of experience, where the embroidery sits alongside others, and forms a giant international network, presented online and through public exhibitions. Anna Maria tells me that she will take away a good memory of experience. She looks forward to receiving feedback through email, and being connected to other people through the project. She says “If I look back 20 years this would have been impossible – I was too busy working and producing, having meetings. So just to be here without feeling any stress is so relaxing.” And we discuss the ethics of work and leisure. What about the protestant work ethic that “The devil makes work for idle hands”? Handwork prevents you from looking lazy, prevents you from doing bad things. we discuss Grizelda pollock's book the Subversive Stitch, where she describes how embroidery makes the sewer look wealthy, as they are clearly part of the leisured class. 

But today, the way in which embroidery helps the stitcher to concentrate and listen seems to be a recurring theme. Margareta tells a story of a job where she had to look over children at night, where she wasn’t allowed to watch TV but could embroider. In this situation, TV was perceived as being 'too much' leisure, and too noisy, but embroidery is a form of work which enables you to listen at the same time. Anna Maria is stitching the words ‘BE PRICELESS’.  She reflects: “To simply ‘to be’ – is priceless. Just ‘being’ has a very important value. Stitching and handwork is about being in the moment – to fully experience life. It’s the best way of living and listening.” Margareta is stitching the words THE PRINCIPLE OF THE GIFT, she says: “Nokia has an advertising slogan that says their mobile phones connect people.  I’d like to subvert their statement and say that embroidery connects people – either to each other, or even connecting to yourself in a contemplative and reflective way.”

Johanna is stitching the words EASY TO USE as she talks about the value of gifts. She tells us: “As a child my father always wanted me to give him a homemade gift for Christmas, even though I wanted to buy him something. But now, as an adult, when I visit him at work – he has kept all my faded handmade gifts on his desk.”

Emese Benczur’s artwork often uses embroidery or textiles to write text in public spaces. Her work investigates the value of creative labour from different perspectives. Works include: ‘It must be wonderful to have so much free time’. She stitches the words GIFTS OPEN DOORS. Jane Tangvar continues the sentence TO OUR OWN POSSIBILTIES OF GENEROUSITY. Ele stitches THERE IS SUCH A THING AS A FREE LUNCH whilst eating Margareta’s wonderful blueberry tart, a very special Swedish recipe.

Öppen Syjunta, Many:Many Sewing Circle

As part of the Öppen Syjunta event we formed a Many:Many sewing circle to stitch our six degrees of separation based on centralised, decentralised and distributed networks. I gave a short introduction to how network topologies are illustrated, based on my embroidery of Paul Baran's diagram of distributed communications (hanging on the back wall in this photo). Then we started to stitch our network. Everyone embroidered their name, as they chatted to the person next to them to find people that they might know in common. The tablecloth was quite big and the connecting lines took sometime to stitch, so we took some shortcuts too. After the event Margareta had some time to add her name and connections too. Anne Diedrich from Mobile Life came along and added her knowledge of Baran's diagrams and packet switching to the discussion. Thanks to Kerstin Bjork, Elisabeth Westerlund, Nina Holst, Annie Johansson, Tina Skantze, Asa Stahl, Kristina Lundstrom, Anne Diedrich and Margareta Klingberg.

For more information, click on the '6 Degrees of Separation' button on my website:

Friday, September 10, 2010

Rescension Film

Rescension 2010 from Sophie McDonald on Vimeo.

Here is the final film of 'Rescension'which was stitched at the Digital Humanities conference in London this summer.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Öppen Syjunta

You are warmly invited to the Öppen Syjunta exhibition opening and workshops at HV Galleri, Djurgårdsslätten 82, Stockholm. Three workshops will provide the opportunity for people to map their social networks, discuss the impact of the digital commons on their work and ideas, and embroider SMS. On Monday 13th 18.00 there will be a seminar with the participating artists and womens' historian Louise Waldén.

Saturday 11th September OPENING in HV Galleri 12.00–16.00.
Sunday 12th Sept: STITCHING TOGETHER, Kritsina Lindström, Åsa Ståhl.12-16.00.
Monday 13th Sept: MANY: MANY with Ele Carpenter.12-16.00.
Monday 13th Sept: SEMINAR with Louise Waldén 18.00.
Tuesday 14th Sept: EMBROIDERED DIGITAL COMMONS: GIFT, Ele Carpenter. 12-16.00.

To sign up please email elecarpenter at or info at

FIBER ART SWEDEN presents Points of Departure: textiles here and now - numerous events within the expanded field of textiles 11–26 September 2010. In September numerous events will take place in different venues in Stockholm. Comprising exhibitions, workshops, performances, lectures and installations in public spaces. The events aim to reflect textiles as an extended concept in the field of art. The themes include new technology and textile traditions, textiles as a relational and activist activity, and textiles’ flight from the private to the public.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Embroidered Digital Commons: SITE

SITE: Digital Embroidered Commons at Sculpture Now!?!

The term 'SITE' is being stitched by Radical Cross Stitch and Public Assembly as part of the 'Sculpture Now!?!' exhibition at the Yarra Sculpture Gallery, Melbourne Australia.

"Site: Location, both as in the fact of being somewhere, and also, as in the answer to the question of "where", that "somewhere" is. Hence, situation. In a system of signs, site - understood in the sense of the kernel of a situation - is not necessarily a place, although a place is always a site. A site can be a situation between and through places. A website is an address on the Internet that always implies a relation of desire between hosts and visitors. In other words, it doesn't really mean anything for a place to exist (virtually) if it is left un-visited. In this way, a site can be both located as well as liminal. Real as well as potential. A system of signs (a work) that carries the markings of a location on a map may be situated in the relation that a map has to the world. It may be situated between the map and the world. This situation may be a special characteristic of the work's portability, in that, although mobile the work always refers to the relation between sites that fall on its orbit. In this way, marking a site as an address calls for the drawing up of relations between a location and the world.
A site is a place where the address is. A site is a place where the work belongs. A situation between these two locations (where the work is and where it belongs) is a site where the work orbits. A site is also a place where people need to wear hard hats to protect them from random falling bodies, travelling in eccentric orbits."
Raqs Media Collective, 2003.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Yarn Film

Embroidered Digital Commons - YARN from Sophie McDonald on Vimeo.

Here is the final film of the Embroidered Digital Commons: Yarn. You can see the problems we had with the colour contrast of some of the patches. If you are taking part in embroidering the digital commons, please remember to take into account the problems of digital colour balance when you select your fabric and threads. Cheers.

For updated information on where each patch is being embroidered see the Embroidered Digital Commons project webpage.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Embroidered Digital Commons: Zone

Throughout the summer the term ‘Zone’ is being stitched by craftspeople in the ArtYarn Network and participants of the MADLAB Manchester Media Lab for the exhibition ‘Analogue is the New Digital’ curated by Simon Blackmore and Andrea Zapp as part of the AND Festival, Manchester, October 2010. For updates see the ArtYarn blog.

The zone of the ‘Analogue is the New Digital’ exhibition is both spatial and conceptual. A series of interlinked sites throughout the city with satellites of decentralized participants contributing to the hub. Rethinking digital technologies in terms of analogue processes not only provides metaphors for understanding the digital and the commons, but enables hybrid practices to be realized and viewed in their entirety: the knitter blogs, the hacker stitches, the writer fixes a plug. Words are sometimes scribbled, sometimes typed. Life can go on unphotographed, undocumented, undigitized. Fabric pulls us back into the materiality of life: cables underfoot, servers hum, electricity burns off the fuel buried deep in our planet.

The embroidery of the text brings together many ideas and practices within the zone of the work. People can sew a few stitches or words, or simply look-on as others fumble with threads and text. Knitters put down their needles and bloggers look away from the screen to pick up a needle and thread, stitching in a shared zone of practice. Late into the night the 24/7 cultural workers clickety clack of machines and needles transmit connections between stories, concepts, and information, encoded through language and bits. Ideas transfer between computer code, cited text and fuzzy thread. The zone is a meditation of making, typing, and thinking; an “overlap of orbits” where questions are asked, terms clarified, and concepts problematised. Artists, crafters, coders unravel the threads of meaning that form the concept of the digital commons online and offline.

A site, within a location, or a work, that demands an attenuated awareness because of the porosity of the lines that demarcate its existence. A zone is differentiated from a grid that frames a site because its borders are fluid and accessible, or because they witness a lot of traffic. It is difficult to distinguish the centre from the liminal periphery of a zone. Alertness about where one stands is a prerequisite for entering any zone. A zone may also be described as the overlap between orbits in a work, where memes transfer material from one orbit to another, where logic likes to fuzz. The zone of a work extends to the outer circumference of the orbit of its ideas. Zones are places where serendipity might be commonplace, and the commonplace serendipitous. They are best entered and exited at twilight on shunting cars along abandoned railroads that connect different data stations. The timing of twilight may vary, depending on one's longitude, but twilight lingers longer in the zone of the web."
(Raqs Media Collective, 2003)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Embroidered Digital Commons: Rescension

This week we are at the Digital Humanities Conference at Kings College London, close reading and stitching the term 'Rescension' as part of the Embroidered Digital Commons. Here's the term -

“Rescension: A re-telling, a word taken to signify the simultaneous existence of different versions of a narrative within oral, and from now onwards, digital cultures. Thus one can speak of a 'southern' or a 'northern' rescension of a myth, or of a 'female' or 'male' rescension of a story, or the possibility (to begin with) of Delhi/Berlin/Tehran 'rescensions' of a digital work. The concept of rescension is contraindicative of the notion of hierarchy. A rescension cannot be an improvement, nor can it connote a diminishing of value. A rescension is that version which does not act as a replacement for any other configuration of its constitutive materials. The existence of multiple rescensions is a guarantor of an idea or a work's ubiquity. This ensures that the constellation of narrative, signs and images that a work embodies is present, and waiting for iteration at more than one site at any given time. Rescensions are portable and are carried within orbiting kernels within a space. Rescensions, taken together constitute ensembles that may form an interconnected web of ideas, images and signs.” (Raqs Media Collective, 2003)

The Digital Humanities is a large net woven by many scholars from many fields, each with their own perspectives on the concept of how the digital can be a form of commons, and how it is restricted. Many of the conference delegates are working with digitising texts, and have very specific understandings of the term 'rescension' within their work. Whether computer programmers, textual scholars, researchers or practitioners within literature, history, geography, computing, cultural studies or cultural theory - they are also keen embroiderers.

Barbara Boralejo has been working on different versions of the Canterbury Tales. As she stitched she explained that a conservative definition of rescension involves searching for the original authentic text; whilst a more open understanding of the term brings together many rescensions of a text to help understand the whole.

Dacos Marin from THAT Camp embroidered a patch and brought along a 'Manifesto for the Digital Humanities'. Article 12 of the manifesto introduces the problematic notion of a common vocabulary which is highly complex for such a diverse group of people from a range of disciplines: "12. We commit to building a collective expertise based upon a common vocabulary, a collective expertise proceeding from the work of all the actors involved."

Perhaps the Lexicon of/for the Digital Commons can be a step towards exploring the complexities of metaphor and translation in our understanding of the commons within the humanities and how that might exist as a digital space? There are so many questions of language here I can't even begin.

This morning Bethany Nowviskie from Virginia USA is embroidering her patch. Bethany is Director of the Scholars' Lab at the University of Virginia Library, and has been following the Open Source Embroidery project for some time. It's great to meet people from the OSE list in person and find out more about their projects. Bethany told us about the Hacking Wearables workshop she ran at The Humanities and Technology Camp (THAT Camp) at the Great Lakes.

Sophie McDonald is helping out with the Embroidered Digital Commons and is making short films of each embroidered term. Her MzTEK workshops also include developing wearable technologies among other things. After a quick chat with Geoffrey Rockwell about the Dictionary of Words in the Wild we discovered that there are no images for the word embroidery. So Sophie is now embroidering the word for the Dictionary, which we will photograph and add to their website. I rather like this way of interlinking online artworks exploring the relationship between text and image, or text and material.

Charlene Lam is also helping out in between assisting Craft Central in their efforts to support emerging designer-makers. Charlene has been a long-time member of the Open Source Embroidery project, and contributed her beautiful embroidered idioms to the exhibition at BildMuseet and MOCFA in San Francisco last year.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Curating Material Networks

It's time to put OSE under the curatorial microscope!

Next week I shall be reflecting on the curatorial concepts of Open Source Embroidery explored at a symposium called 'Exhibiting the Lab' organised by I+C+i at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) on May 27th.

As the information about the event explains: it aims to explore the mutating exhibition genre in the 21st century, focusing on physical space and virtual scenarios. New terms such as 'evolving exhibitions', 'open exhibitions' or 'meta-exhibitions' will come under focus, along with the function of curators in this new context, and the influence of participation and collective creation in new working methodologies. The exhibition has gone into the laboratory, like most genres and formats. It is time for change.

My talk will explore the Open Source Embroidery project in terms of the curatorial facilitation of material networks, which is interesting after arguing for the immateriality of both digital and socially engaged art practices. But a material network is not the same as a material object. Instead the network is embedded or represented by the object, and the tension between object and process is maintained.

I'll be discussing the relationship between the physical and online aspects of artworks in the Open Source Embroidery exhibition which blur the boundaries of material / immaterial, spectator / participant, amateur / professional and process / object.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What is Democracy on May 7th?

FRIDAY 07 MAY 2010, 6:30PM at TATE BRITAIN {Turner's Italian Odyessy T7}

I'll be taking part in this event at the Tate, introducing selected chapters of Oliver Ressler's film What is Democracy?

As the final results of the UK election will be rolling in, I'm interested to see how the salon structure of the event creates or limits a moment of democracy. It's difficult to 'include as many people as possible' in public discourse about rethinking democracy, let alone the implementation of institutional frameworks that might facilitate this. But the sameness of the UK political parties, and the apathy of voters without choice leads us to ask exactly 'What is Democracy?' and how might we achieve it? Ressler's films offer many insights through exploring the blindpots, backspots and diverse perspectives on democracy around the world.

The Salon is organised by 'This Is Not A Gateway' is part of European Alternative’s Transeuropa Festival and Tate Britain’s Late at Tate event East is East.

The EA Festival is tackling the European Commission's 2010 theme 'Poverty & Social Exclusion'- their specific interest is exploring the return of slums to European cities. Tate Britain's Cross Cultural Contemporary Art Team are looking at contested spaces and notions of London's East End for their event 'East is East'. TINAG's interest in both these areas is the potential to explore the psycho/social idea of 'refusing to accept one's place'.

The salon will explore how notions of poverty are constructed, the return of slums in Europe, understandings of democracy, the links between land ownership and social exclusion and the psycho/social condition of Refusing To Accept One's Place that may have motivated social and spatial reformers - past & present.

. Ruhana Ali, Community Organising Foundation
. David Rosenberg, teacher and guide of radical history walks in East London
. Andrea Luka Zimmerman & Lasse Johansson, Fugitive Images
. Kevin Cahill, investigative journalist and author of 'Who Own's Britain'
. Oliver Ressler, artist and filmmaker, with curator Ele Carpenter.
. Andrea Gibbons, Right to the City, JustSpace and PM Press.
. Mark Saunders, Spectacle Documentaries
. Paul Trevor, photographer 'Eastender Archive'.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Handcrafted website

This weekend I've finally got round to updating the Open Source Embroidery website. This onerous task has become yet another DIY chore left for the bank holiday weekend along with fixing the gutter and painting the spare room. I've put it off for over a year and now there's lots to do: adding new projects, updating texts, fixing links, resizing new photos, tidying up code, standardizing the navigation, looking up html code for Swedish letters. These are all tasks for the DIY Html coder.

My main achievement is the new page for the Embroidered Digital Commons, which has started with a collective embroidery of the term 'Yarn' from the Raqs Media Collective 'A Concise Lexicon of/for the Digital Commons', 2003

In 2005 artist Sneha Solanki showed me how to use html to build and maintain my website. It was a thoroughly enjoyable few days, and she taught me the simplicity of html. It was through our conversations that the concept of the Open Source Embroidery project emerged. I was so impressed by how much I could learn in 2 days, by the fact that html was in English with a quirky mix of abbreviations, and that I had a website up and running. I wanted to expand the beauty of this code into a physical and material form, breaking out of the computer and into fabric. A couple of years later I was artist in residence at Access Space in Sheffield and created the 'Open Source Embroidery' website.

Five years later it is quicker to blog, facebook, twitter etc, and given half an hour I'm more likely to write a blog post than update my hand-built website. However, whilst this blog lazily uses a standard template and is hosted on a server somewhere in the world (actually I have no idea where), my website is a located and hand crafted piece of web design. I don't much care that it's tricky to navigate, or that some of the pages have been 'coming soon...' for five years! It could be more sophisticated if I was a more dedicated coding student, but my intention is to use the simplest tools creatively. The point is that it's my own work, I know every piece of code on it and how to update it and fix it for free. And I know exactly where the server is.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day 2010

March 24th is Ada Lovelace day, and I celebrated by attending the Ada Lovelace Day Potluck Unconference hosted by the wonderful Suw Charman-Anderson with Maggie Philbin, of Tomorrow's World fame!  The event was held at the Centre for Creative Collaboration, a newly opened space near Kings Cross, London,  where artists Brian Condon and Llyod Davis are open to ideas for collaborative engagement and new projects. The event had the air of creative and open-ended experimentation, as women technologists spoke about the women who had inspired them in their lives and work.

I felt slightly flumoxed (not really being a 'technologoist') so I didn't speak on the day. But with further thought there are three women who have greatly inspired my work and research into art and technology: Natalie Jeremijenko, Kate Rich and Ruth Catlow.

I first came across artists Natalie Jeremijenko and Kate Rich from the Bureau of Inverse Technology in the late 1990s. Their approach opened up a new way of thinking about art and technology for me. Rather than fitting into any category of 'media art' their inventions respond to social and political situations according to need.

Kate Rich is an artist and trader. Her Feral Trade project trades food over social networks presented at exhibitions and art events around the world. Starting with coffee, and developing into a cornicopia of highly specific goods. Her practice combines social networks online and offline, revealing the complex nodes of exchange and protocol that enable global communication and distribution.

Natalie Jeremijenko's Wikipedia entry states:
"Her work is described as experimental design, hence xDesign, as it explores opportunities presented by new technologies for non-violent social change. Her research centers on structures of participation in the production of knowledge and information, and the political and social possibilities (and limitations) of information and emerging technologies—mostly through public experiments. In this vein, her work spans a range of media from statistical indices (such as the Despondency Index, which linked the Dow Jones to the suicide rate at San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge) to biological substrates (such as the installations of cloned trees in pairs in various urban micro-climates) to robotics (such as the development of feral robotic dog packs to investigate environmental hazards)."

Ruth Catlow runs with Mark Garrett and like Natalie and Kate, has a fully social view of distributed creativity. Her media art lexicon 'Rosalind' is based on the idea of 'mutate and survive' where language and knowledge (as well as bodies) evolve over time. The Furtherfield website continues to offer a critical analysis of the media art scene (slowly becoming variable media), and their HTTP Gallery in North London features artists who explore the relationship between artist and audience through networked creative projects.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Punch Card Loop

You never know what first hand observation will reveal. But going back to first principles (in mathematics) was of key importance to Ada Lovelace. In the 1840s she conducted a tour of the machines and feats of the industrial revolution including weaving mills using the Jacquard Loom. Betty Toole writes:

"Rather than relying on verbal explanations, Ada informed readers that if they wished to see how the punch card and the Jaquard Loom worked, they should go and see the exhibit of the machine..."
(Toole, 1992, p252)

Following in her footsteps, in a kind of reverse engineering of our knowledge, Simon Blackmore, Alex Hodby and I went to the Macclesfield Silk Mill and Museum to see for ourselves exactly how these looms worked. We were treated to a comprehensive tour of the museum, the evolution and trade of silk and the working looms by Director Richard DePeyer. It was incredible to see these 19th Century machines creating photographic-like images using thousands of threads all controlled by a sequence of binary punch cards. Richard took us through each step of the process from the perspective of the production of silk. Interestingly, to work out how the cards were made we had to work backwards through the display. Starting with the translation of an image plotted onto graph paper, punching the card, setting up a loom threads and cards (complete with a code to ring the bell to tell you when to change the colour of the thread). The process of using a hole-punching machine to translate the drawing onto a punch card seemed rather like playing a piano, but using eight fingers (8 bits?) to punch or miss a hole to create a sequence in the weave.

When looking at the looms, it was clear that the cards loop to repeat the pattern, which would need to be far more flexible and interchangeable for any computational or algorythmic process. Betty Toole describes how Babbage adapted Jacquard's punch card system for the Analytical Engine, improving the way in which the cards gave instructions to the loom. However, it was the regrouping and 'backing' of the cards which was unique to the mathematicians work, as Ada writes in her notes to the Analytical Engine, Note C, p706:

"The mode of application of the cards, as hitherto used in the art of weaving, was not found, however, to be sufficiently powerful... to fulfill the processes of the analytical engine. A method was devised of 'backing' the cards in certain groups according to certain laws. The object of this extension is to secure the possibility of bringing any particular card or set of cards into use any number of times successively in the solution of one problem..." (Toole, 1992, p253)

But the principle of using binary programmes to create complex patterns and images has inspired the development of computing as much as the desire to communicate. And it is Ada Lovelace with her love of "poetical science" who understood the visual and metaphorical relationships between art and science which enable us to envisage and conceptualise computational processes.

Now I am stuck somewhere in a loop of punchcards, like a film loop, or rather a digital sequence,  where one change in the sequence enables an action to take place. Perhaps a mechanical version of Graham Gussin's Fall (7200-1) a digital film/programme made in 1996 where viewers can wait hours for the random occurance of a splash in the still surface of a lake.

Meanwhile Will Bradley has curated an interesting exhibition called Fragments of Machines at IMO Projects in Copenhagen, including Tauba Auerbach, Claire Fontaine, Travis Meinolf, Craig Mulholland, Lillian Schwartz, and Hayley Tompkins. I wonder if it could tour to the Silk Museum?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

HUMlab videos of OSE in Umea last year

There are some great films of the Open Source Embroidery exhibition in Umea on the HUMlab blog, including a tour of some of the works by me, the opening preview performance by the Sampler Collective and Getting Ready for the Eclectic Carnival.

Monday, February 08, 2010

MzTEK women artists, techies and tinkerers

MzTEK: woment artits, techies and tinkerers from MAT10 on Vimeo.

Well done MzTek for making it happen and presenting such a detailed and coherent argument for self organised women only tech spaces, and independent learning networks. You feral scholars you!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Graffiti-stitched armchairs in Tiburon Art Auction for Haiti

The Sampler Culture Clash yellow armchairs have been beautifully graffiti-stitched, creating a unique archive of the Open Source Embroidery exhibition at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco. Audiences were invited to listen to the Sampler Collective A-Z Audio recordings whilst they stitched. The sewing was inspired by a compilation of song, poetry, spoken and electronic sounds and beats celebrates the many different facets of embroidery, from the personal words of the stitcher and the sounds of sewing, to the history of the sampler and Canan Purple Dye. The expressive embroidery has created multicoloured personal tags and warm messages of hope combined with pixelated and freestyle stitches. Some of the words are confidently stitched versions of early programmed texts such as 'Hello World'; others are more discreetly hidden messages such as  'Happy Bday to Me' embroidered on the back of one of the chairs. Even an English penny has been sewn to the backseat of one chair, asking for your thoughts in return.

These exquisitely unique chairs will be auctioned in aid of the Haiti Earthquake Appeal at Tiburon near San Francisco, on Feb 19th details below:

On February 21st the city of Tiburon will host an auction at the Tiburon Town Hall to benefit earthquake survivors of Haiti. There will be a silent auction of art and wine followed by a live art auction. The auctioneer is the well known curator Ted Cohen.

The auction will include contemporary and traditional painting and sculpture, fine crafts from Bay Area artists and folk art. In addition, the silent auction will include a selection of interesting wines.

100% of proceeds will be donated to the following charity organizations:
American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Partners in Health and Unicef. These organizations are instrumental in the current emergency as well as the massive reconstruction effort that must begin in the near future.

Sunday February 21st
Silent Auction 12- 4.30pm / Live Auction 5.00pm
Tiburon Town Hall, 1505 Tiburon Blvd
Payment by check only please.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Open Source Hardware

The Riversimple's eco-friendly car project is also supporting an open source hardware community.

Alex McDonald writes in the Ecologist Magazine:
"...what is extraordinary about Riversimple is that their business model is trying to move away from the current auto industry practice that has left us with the inefficient, one-size-fits-all car.

The first departure from the conventional business plan is that the designs of the car will be released under an open source licence. This allows people to freely build on ideas and designs, speeding up innovation and enabling technologies to be quickly improved, meeting the needs of people rather than markets.
'There is such a yawning gap between the environmental performance of cars and what is sustainable, that I don’t believe a purely competitive world can ever get us there,' says Hugo Spowers, the brains behind Riversimple.

'[open source] really does produce this constant and very rapid drive toward absolute excellence, which I think is needed in the current circumstances. I have precious little faith in regulation ever pushing us in that direction.'

Good Luck to them!
For more info see Riversimple.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Distributed Disktrasa

Thank you to Hillevi for the beautiful crocheted dishcloth (disktrasa in Swedish). It's so carefully made, in fantastic magenta and purple, that I can hardly bring myself to use it. But a quick peek at the disktrasa website shows many dishcloths in action. Hopefully my dishcloth will be featured there soon along with an ever growing network of distributed disktrasa.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Unstitched ethnic revivalism

I came across this interesting observation in Pelto's rare book about the impact of snowmobile on the Skolt Sami in northern Finland in the 1970s and 1980s. He describes craft training as ‘employment’ training, for people who did not previously necessarily define themselves as ‘unemployed’. He writes:

“De-localization and reactions to it, are also evident in the increased ethnic revivalism among the Skolt Sami, beginning in the middle of the late 1970s. Curiously, the ethnic revivalism is in part linked directly to national unemployment policies. Two important changes occurred in the unemployment patterns in Sevettijarvi which reflect aspects of Finnish government policies. Housewives became eligible for unemployment benefits, and the well-organised system of vocational training was expanded to include instruction in traditional handicrafts. Skolt women had already embarked on a program to revive traditional weaving of woollen wall hangings. Women on the unemployment rolls were given per diem allowances plus transportation to participate in weaving classes, then leatherwork (using reindeer and sheep hides), beltwork, and constructions of the highly ornate, complicated married women’s headdresses. Basketry made from roots was added in the late 1980s, as well as the making of the traditional male headwear. As a result of these training programme, some Skolt women have begun to make these items for sale to the tourist trade, as well as for local sale and use in connection with ethnic revivalist activities.”
Pertti J. Pelto. (1973/1987) Preface.

Reintroducing traditional craft as 'ethnic revivalism' as process of de-localization is an interesting concept. Today we might think of this process as re-localisation, especially if the materials are sourced locally and the craft enables people to stay in their locales. However, the reality is that craft is usually poorly paid work, and is rarely carried out for purely economic benefit. I wonder about Pelto's definition of 'ethnic revivalist activities', and the way in which tradition is maintained and developed within a community, especially one that has been so severely oppressed. Of course it's impossible to make generalisations about Sami culture across different lands and locations, but ethnic revivalism could be re-read as ethnic continuity.

A few days later I saw some worn out Sami shoes and shoe bands for sale were in a second hand shop in Umeå, with the stitching coming undone, apparently due to animal rights activists entering the shop and damaging the shoes. Another layer of Umeå history is un-stitched into the fabric.